Haydn Piano Sonatas
It’s good to see such a gifted, high-profile young pianist as Leif Ove Andsnes tackling Haydn, whose sonatas still tend to be given short shrift by all but a few dedicated champions. This new disc offers delectable performances of five shrewdly contrasted works: two troubled, trenchant minor-key sonatas from the 1770s juxtaposed with a pair of lightweight pieces from the same period and culminating in the great E flat Sonata dedicated to Haydn’s friend and confidante Marianne von Genzinger.
Like Alfred Brendel in his
In both the B minor and E flat Sonatas Brendel tends to be broader and weightier than Andsnes, more likely to conjure Beethovenian associations in, say, the dramatic development of the E flat’s opening Allegro. But Andsnes’s bright, buoyant yet lyrical reading of this sonata’s outer movements has its own validity; and he brings to the wonderful Adagio a limpid line, a subtly flexed pulse and, in the B flat minor central episode, a true sense of passion – Brendel, equally masterly, is more lofty and contained here. In the first movement of the D major Andsnes struck me as too fleet and mechanical, for all the dazzling clarity of his runs; on the other hand the central Largo – a grandly Handelian sarabande with some very un-Handelian harmonies – is uncommonly slow and brooding, with rich, deep sonorities and huge dynamic contrasts – here, as often elsewhere, Andsnes effectively ‘orchestrates’ the keyboard.
Once or twice – as in the driving finale of the B minor – I thought Andsnes’s fondness for throwaway pianissimo endings backfired. And I’m sorry he habitually stints on second-half repeats in sonata movements (and in a few shorter repeats elsewhere). But with few provisos this is just the sort of playing – joyous, imaginative, involving – to win Haydn’s sonatas a wider following. The recording of the E flat, made in a church in Oslo, has slightly more ambient warmth than that of the remaining sonatas, recorded at EMI’s Abbey Road studios. But throughout, the piano sound is natural and present without being too closely miked.'